A couple of weeks ago I started rummaging though a cache of old photographs hunting for something whimsical for a friend’s birthday. In the process I came across some old family photos.
I’m not sure what they all are. The pictures were never really ‘mine’. They were handed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to my sister, eventually ending up with me. I put them in one of the vintage luggage pieces I collect and they’ve rested there, undisturbed, for almost a decade. Some of the photographs are familiar. I recall seeing them when I was a child. Others are not familiar at all. A few are older or younger iterations of faces I see regularly in frames on one shelf or another around the room.
The first photograph that captures my attention is one of my maternal grandmother; Paulina; and her family. She’s there on the far right with her two younger sisters and my great-grandparents.
Three of the people in the picture died long before I was born. My grandmother lived into her late 80’s. dying when I was about 30 so I remember her very well. In many ways she raised me as much as my mother did. I also remember one of her sisters; Leda (center). What I recall most about Leda is that she drove a huge white Cadillac. She smoked unfiltered cigarettes, wore a very large Zircon ring, a gift from her second husband, and she hated children. Since I was one then we were never close. She died when I was in my teens.
Even more than my grandmother’s, the face that guarantees immediate recognition is her youngest sister; second from the right in the dark dress. Wilma has alway been a legendary figure in our family. I have had her picture on my desk at home for years. Family lore tells us she ran away from home with the circus at age 13. She married a succession of increasing wealthy men, 5 in all, and she died in 1933 at the age of 33.
As I’ve found more photos I’ve encountered the challenge of trying to estimate their dates. The group photo above shows them as adults. Wilma looks young, certainly younger than in the individual photo which I’ve imagined was taken late in her life. The group shot must pre-date it by a few years so my best guess is that it dates from +/- 1928.
The next photo I came across very helpful. It shows my great-grandparents (William T. & Zula) with two of their daughters. Hand-written on the back is a note listing “W.T. and Zula Wallace…” with their address in Paducah KY. A later addition to the note says’ “Leda 6 months; Paulina 4 yrs”. This yields a pretty solid date for the photo at +/- December 1897.
In the next group I found another photo. Originally I thought it was William T. & Zula. There are no dates or notations but the couple is shown with only one child so I, incorrectly, concluded is was Paulina as a toddler. This would have yielded a date of about 1894. Actually this is Leda, her first husband Pete Burton and their daughter Juanita so the date would more accurately be +/- 1919.
Finally, thus far at least, I found one a picture of my grandparents. Appearing with no children, they are clearly younger. It could almost be a photo of children playing dress up in their parents’ clothes. My best guess is this must have been the around 1916. They would have been in their early 20’s. Based on their dress, it is not a wedding photo. I imagine they were married when it was taken since he has his arm around her. Such familiarity between single people in those days would have shocked the horses.